Zoe Mercer-Golden, Yale Class of 2013
Making a Cosmiconcept:
The Negotiation of Authority in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Visual Art and Writing
written for Professor Robert Stepto’s course “American Artists and the African-American Book”
This project considered connections between Jean-Michel Basquiat’s early work (as represented in the SAMO Graffiti Notebook housed in the Beinecke collection, JWJ MSS 63). I then turned to the other major Basquiat holdings at Yale in the Yale University Art Gallery–a major painting and an unsigned sketch–and began to think about the connections between them. My reading of critical sources led me to the conclusion that much of Basquiat’s art and writing dealt with his preoccupation with authority, artistic, literary and musical. Focusing on his art work and writing, I composed a paper that explored Basquiat’s relationship to authority, the critical response to Basquiat’s art, and my personal response to Basquiat as someone who loves his art and loves to teach his art to tour audiences.
I traced patterns and genealogies of thought that began early in his career and continued throughout his life. Instead of focusing on Basquiat the rebel or countercultural figure, I wanted to think and write about Basquiat the highly literate and thoughtful commentator on the history and art that came before him. More than anything I wanted to celebrate the freeing effect his work had on later artists and writers, as he gave other figures permission to problematize so much of what came before. The poignancy of reading Basquiat’s scribbles as a young man made me highly conscious of how much we lost when he died at 27. The SAMO notebook (and other works like it) is an essential aspect of his oeuvre, because we have such limited quantities of his work. He has been an influential figure in my thinking and writing about art; I feel privileged that I got to be so close to him–to touch the pages that he drew on–while still a student.
Image: Notebook related to SAMO© Graffiti, 1978 September-1979 January JWJ MSS 63 A notebook with writing and drawings by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Shannon Dawson, probably begun while students at City-As-School High School in New York City, and others associated with SAMO© Graffiti, probably including Al Diaz, September 1978-January 1979. Writings include political and poetic aphorisms, song lyrics, and stream of consciousness observations. Sketches include figures and psychedelic drawings.
Rachel Kempf, Yale College Class of 2013
“Lost in the Zoo: The Art of Charles Sebree”
written for Professor Robert Stepto’s English 306 course, “American Artists and the African-American Book”
Using correspondence from the Countee Cullen Collection, this essay examines the life and work of Harlem Renaissance artist Charles Sebree, focusing on his collaboration with Countee Cullen on the children’s book The Lost Zoo. This essay explores Sebree’s work through the lens of his life experience as evidenced by his communication with Alain Locke during his period of collaboration with Cullen. By comparing documents from the Beinecke’s James Weldon Johnson Collection (MSS 7 Box 2) and correspondence from the Alain Locke Collection at Howard University Moorland Springarn Research Center, this essay reexamines existing explanations of Sebree’s behavior during his collaboration with Countee Cullen and calls attention to the artist’s formative friendship with Alain Locke only briefly mentioned in other examinations of Sebree’s work.
Finally, the essay examines how these personal relationships and individual trials may have influenced Sebree’s work on The Lost Zoo and how his experience with the book may or may not have influenced his future career.
Read the article here: Rachel Kempf, “Lost in the Zoo: The Art of Charles Sebree”
The Beinecke Library has an outstanding collection of books illustrated by African American artist Lois Mailou Jones. The collection includes the many books for which Jones is well known as well as several works for which she is very likely the (uncredited) illustrator. Works about Jones, exhibition catalogs, and ephemeral publications are also present. Titles include: Great American Negroes in Verse, Word Pictures of Great Negroes, Their Eyes Were Watching God (with cover design by LMJ), Reflective Moments, Picture-Poetry Book, Negro Art, Music, and Rhyme, Poems of Leopold Sedar Senghor (with silkscreen prints by LMJ), and many others.
All titles and related materials can be located by searching Orbis, Yale Library’s Catalog for book.
Additional information about Lois Mailou Jones is available from the Loïs Mailou Jones Pierre-Noël Trust.
The Beinecke has recently acquired an archive of publications, ephemera, and other materials related to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The forty-two items total nearly 700 pages, spanning more than sixty years, beginning in 1915, with much documentation of the NAACP’s early efforts to end lynching in the United States, including “The Waco Horror” by Elizabeth Freeman, “Brief in Support of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill” by Moorefield Storey, a 1930’s “Stop Lynching NAACP Legal Defense Fund” pin-back button, etc. Also included are two ephemeral items, representing Anti-NAACP racist publications in the United States. The large majority of publications in the collection are unrecorded by OCLC (or otherwise known in only a few institutional holdings). A detailed list of the collection contents is available here (NOTE: this document includes images and language that some my find disturbing): NAACP Collection Description. Related collections include: Walter White and Poppy Cannon Papers (JWJ MSS 38); James Weldon Johnson and Grace Nail Johnson Papers (JWJ MSS 49); Joel Spingarn Collection (JWJ MSS 11); JWJ Clippings Collection (JWJ MSS 89); Leon F. Litwack Collection Protest Literature (WA MSS S-2616); additional materials may be found by searching the Finding Aid Database, Uncataloged Accession Database, Digital Library, and Orbis (links to these and other tools can be found on the Beinecke Library Home Page).
Image: [Pictorial Broadside, urging membership in the NAACP]: STRONG MAN! [Caption title]. Published by the Pittsburgh Courier, Pittsburg, Penn. Hollywood, California: Distributed by Hollywood Beauty Secrets Company, Owned by Mr. & Mrs. Homer Goodwin [No Date, but circa 1950’s?]. Original promotional broadside, issued by a cosmetics company.